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Are you feeling a little overwhelmed with the complexity of the relationships within holistic medicine? Life is complex. The web of life is vast, beyond imagination. But there is also a simplicity to holistic medicine that can be trusted and relied on. Let’s turn to another story of consider the simplicity underlying the complex web of life. This is an old story about a witch, a girl and doll that comes to use from Eastern Europe.

There is a girl named Vasalisa whose mother dies. Luckily, just before her mother gasps her final breath, she gives the girl a tiny doll and says, “Feed this doll every day, and she will always help you when you ask?”

The story than takes another unfortunate turn when Vasalisa’s father marries a jealous woman with jealous daughters. In other words, they don’t like Vasalisa and make life difficult for her until she finally leaves home at an age too young to be on her own. Vasalisa wanders in a dark forest until she finds herself in front of the witch’s house.

Vasalisa opens the gate made of human bones and wanders into the witch’s garden where she meets the witch, Baba Yaga. The witch is fearsome with budging eyes and long pointy nose, thin lips and a long pointy chin. Her hair is a mess and she scratches herself without modesty. She invites Vasalisa into her house.

Once in Baba Yaga’s house the witch tells Vasalisa she will give her a good life but first she must earn her reward. Baba Yaga, after a thunderous belch that reeked of garlic and onions, tells Vasalisa to do the house work, make her meals and point to huge mound of corn. “Sort out the mouldy corn from the good corn.” The witch demans and leaves for the night.

Poor Vasalisa is overwhelmed and does not know where to begin. The little doll soothes the girl telling her not to worry but to have a good night’s sleep with sweet dreams. The doll will tend to the cleaning, cooling and sorting.

Vasalisa has a lovely sleep and when she wakes up in the morning, she finds Baba Yaga gobbling up her breakfast and is impressed that her house is clean and the corn sorted. As a reward Baba Yaga teaches the girl about living within the cycles of nature.

That night Baba Yaga makes demands on Vasalisa. Clean my house, cook my food and find all the poppy seeds in that heap of dirt. heap of poppy seeds mixed in with dirt.  As Baba Yaga leaves for the night she let’s rip a very stinky fart.

Again Vasalisa is overwhelmed and does know where to begin. Again the little doll tells the girl to go to sleep and have lovely dreams and sets about accomplishing the tasks.

In the morning Vasalisa wakes up to find Baba Yaga wolfing down her breakfast, enjoying her clean house and assessing a mound of poppy seeds. The witch grants Vasalisa her wish. She gives Vasalisa the creative fire of meaning and passion and sends her on the way to the rest of her life. Everyone lived happily ever after.

What does this story have to do with holistic medicine? There is a grace in healing. It is the grace that knows how to heal, repair and balance relationships and flourish, like the grace in the relationships between water, the soil, bacteria and the heat of the sun coming together for a seed to sprout. There is grace that weaves life into being with many threads.

To understand this healing grace let’s look at the three characters of the story.

Baba Yaga farts, belches, eats, needs to be cleaned up after and is demanding. Baba Yaga is the body. Bodies need to eat, sleep, drink, poop, etc. And if those things do not happen, there is no health and happiness for anyone.

What is important to understand is Baba Yaga is the cycles of nature. Our body is profoundly in-tuned with nature’s day and night cycle. To ignore the relationship between the health of the body and light/dark cycle of nature leads to imbalance in the body’s health.

Vasalisa is overwhelmed and does not know what to do. How many patients does a herbalist meet who are overwhelmed and do not know what to do? They have lost their bearing and have lost confident in the vast web of life. They do not know how to weave themselves back into the great turning of nature and all its relationships.

The doll is the innate wisdom that understand the balance within the myriad relationships that make up life. Some call it homeostasis, but I think it is more than that. It is the gift of grace one experiences when the one who has to do something gets out of the way. Vasalisa’s doll represent the great healing that takes place every night when we sleep.

Jan Longboat an Anishinaabe herbalist advises that if someone tells you they are going to heal you – RUN! This is the understanding of Vasalisa’s doll. The doll heals. How? We really do not know. Somehow there is a kind of grace that appears when we walk gently through nature’s seasons and cycles. Somehow what needs to be discarded and what needs to nurtured becomes clear and we develop a confidence that every cells of our body is in relationship to every other cells in the vast web of life.


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